Monday, 15 April 2013

Lager and murder in wartime Exeter (part two)

Wondering what happened to Robert Joseph Himmelmann? We'll find out today.

Here's his side of the evening's events.

The case for the prosecution was concluded when the U.S. court-martial was resumed at Exeter to-day on Private Robert Joseph Himmelmann, of the U.S. Army, who is charged with the murder of Phyllis Irene Kent, a 25-year-old A.T.S. private, by stabbing her at an  A.T.S. hostel on August 3.

Accused pleaded not guilty.

Bartley, of the U.S. Military C.I.D., read a statement in which Himmmelmann was alleged to have said that on August 3 he left his camp  with a friend and went into Exeter where they had three pints of beer apiece at a hotel.

They then went to another inn and "had enough Scotch and lager to feel it." on leaving the second hotel, he and his friend went to a fish and chips shop where they met two girls.

The statement went on:— "The next thing I remember was waking up in bed and asking a guard where I was. The knife I was shown this morning is mine. It was given to me when we were in Swindon. I don't know how I got blood on my field jacket, nor can I explain the blood on my knife.""
Evening Telegraph - Saturday 04 November 1944, page 5.
Add one extra pint to his alcohol intake - he says they had three pints in the first pub. So that's 3 pints, 3 double Scotches, two single gins and five halves of Lager. That's the equivalent of nine and a half pints. Not intoxicated?

Waking up in jail covered in blood. Who hasn't experience that?

Resumption At Exeter
"I am a German. I am a German. Put a knife to my throat. Cut my hands off."

These sentences were alleged to have been muttered by Robert Joseph Himmelmann, an American soldier, whose trial for the murder of Pte. Phyllis Irene Kent, A.T.S., was resumed at an American Army court-martial yesterday.

Pte. Kent died at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital on August 3, within a short while of her having been found with a stab wound in the left upper chest. The wound, said witnesses, was inflicted while she was on duty at Rowancroft, an Exeter A.T.S. hostel.

P.C. (War Reserve) Gilding described how he and others gave chase to an American soldier who was seen to be running from the hostel grounds into the main road. The American was closely followed by a British Marine and a British soldier, who were giving chase. The American turned into some laurel bushes, and at that moment a sailor took a flying leap, bringing him down.


The American was dragged from the laurel bushes on to the drive of Southlands, an adjoining house. He was in an exhausted condition. Witness gave evidence of Himmelmann's muttering, and when asked his name replied: " Himmelmann."

Det.-Inspr. Bennett said he found a knife in Himmelmann's pocket. On the large blade were stains closely resembling bloodstains.

Lieut. R. Kleffman, United States Police, said that after arrest accused appeared to be unconscious. Dr. W. A. Robb, pathologist, Exeter, who conducted a postmortem, said Pte., Kent had an angular wound in the left side of the neck. In his opinion it was caused by a single blow from a sharp instrument. The cause of death was hemorrhage and shock due to the stab wound. The hearing was adjourned until today."
Western Morning News - Saturday 04 November 1944, page 6.
Saying "I am a German" wasn't a particularly bright thing to say in wartime Britain. You might well have had someone comply with your throat-cutting request. It all sounds a bit like he was crazy . . . .

Murder Charge Adjourned
FOURTH day of the United States court-martial at Exeter on an American soldier charged with the murder of an A.T.S. private closed with an unexpected development on Saturday, the trial being adjourned indefinitely pending a report from a Board of medical officers on the soldier's mental condition.

Accused, Robert Joseph Himmelmann, was alleged to have killed Phyllis Irene Kent by stabbing her with a jack-knife at Rowancroft, an Exeter A.T.S. hostel, on August 3 last. He had pleaded "Not guilty."

When the closing stages of the trial were reached, the Trial Judge Advocate (Lieut. A. Gallen) intimated that he would introduce in evidence a statement made by Himmelmann. Objection was raised by the defence counsel (Lieut. Hooberman) on the ground of "surprise," but it was overruled, and the statement read by Agent W. H. Bartley, of the United States Military C.I.D.. was admitted.

In the course of the alleged statement, Himmelmann said that on August 3 he and a friend went to an hotel, and each had three pints of bitter. They went to another inn and had enough Scotch and lager to feel it. Leaving, they went to a fish and chip shop, where they met two girls, who walked down the street with them.

The statement continued: "The next thing I remember was waking up in bed and asking a guard where I was. The knife I was shown later is my knife. I don't know how I got blood on my field jacket, nor can I explain the blood on knife."

A member of the Court asked there were any available doctors who could testify to prisoner's condition after his arrest.

A negative reply was received.

Two A.T.S. girls were called. Each said that Pte. Kent had made "dates" with different American soldiers, but neither had seen her out with Himmelmann. One of the witnesses remembered the Christian names of some of Pte. Kent's American friends as Joe, Guy, and Bob.

Following a recess, the President said that the case of so serious a nature the Court should have additional evidence as to the mental responsibility of accused. There should be a medical examination by one or more medical officers.

Defence counsel argued that the Court should first determine the big issue. Did the accused kill the girl or not? If he did not there was no need for a medical examination. If the Court considered it necessary to have that examination its findings should be first issued.

The Trial Judge Advocate contended there was no evidence to show that prisoner was insane.

Following further arguments a member of the Court moved that additional evidence should be obtained of Himmelmann's mentality. He proposed that course in the interests of justice and moved that the Court be adjourned until such evidence was obtained.

The motion was considered in secret session and the President, reopening the Court, said that the proposition had been sustained."
Western Morning News - Monday 06 November 1944, page 3.
I see the three pints are confirmed and, more specifically, they are identified as Bitter. I guessed it wasn't Mild. Murderers and crazy men don't drink Mild. Lager, that's what murderers drink. Lager and gin.

It's an intriguing detail that Kent had been on dates with various American soldiers. Did that have a connection with Himmelmann's attack? I'm finding it frustrating that no-one has asked him the motive for hisattack. Was Kent really a random victim? Remember that she was a married woman.

I couldn't find anything about the result of the investigation into Himmelmann's sanity. But as the trial continued, they presumably ruled he was as sane as you or I.

U.S. Court-Martial Finding In Exeter Case
A private found guilty of the murder of a young woman who was a complete stranger to him was sentenced by a United States Army court-martial, near Taunton, yesterday.

Pte. Robert Joseph Himmelmann, 19, of St. Louis, Missouri, was alleged to have stabbed Mrs. Phyllis Irene Kent, 25, after he was ordered to leave an ATS hostel at Exeter on the night of August 3.

He was sentenced to dishonourable discharge, to forfeit all pay, and allowances, and to life imprisonment, with hard labour."
Western Morning News - Sunday 19 November 1944, page 2.

It seems that Himmelmann was fortunate to be tried by an American Court Martial and not a normal British court. If he had, he would have been given a death sentence. I wonder what Kent's family thought about him only getting hard labour for life? What eventually happened to Himmelmann? Was he ever let out?


Brian C. Becker said...

After some searching on, I think we may have some answers as to whatever happened to Robert Joseph Himmelmann. That exact name shows up in the Moberly Monitor-Express dated Thursday, Feb. 6 1964 in the article "Policeman Severely Beaten, Critically Wounds Assailant". In summary, St. Louis policeman Robert J. Hollowell Jr. was severely beaten after stopping Himmelmann for speeding. Hollowell managed to draw his service revolver and fire two shots hitting Himmelmann in the throat and right shoulder. The officer then immediately fell unconscious and was later hospitalized and treated for a cerebral concussion and multiple lacerations on the head and upper body. Two postal clerks grabbed the revolver and held Himmelmann at gunpoint and put him in Hollowell's patrol car until other police officers arrived on the scene.

Brian C. Becker said...

Robert J. Himmelmann was buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 14, 1991 at age 66.

Ron Pattinson said...

Brian, thanks very much for that. This story is bizarrely fascinating.

Himmelmann obviously served much less than a life sentence.

none said...

Here's a link to the actual case.